London, July 23 (ANI): Challenging the long held belief that chimps are unlikely to develop AIDS, a new study has revealed that animals carrying SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus), the precursor to HIV-1, are likely to contract or die of the disease.
The study led by University of Minnesota researchers has shown that infected chimpanzees are 10-16 times more likely to die than those who were uninfected.
It also showed that infected females were less likely to give birth and infants born to infected mothers were unlikely to survive.
Moreover, the virus was transmitted sexually and through mother's milk.
"We hope this will lead to a better understanding of the virus that will benefit both humans and chimpanzees," said Nature quoted Jane Goodall, whose focus has shifted in recent years from research to conservation of chimpanzees and their habitats, as saying.
During the research, the team, including Anne Pusey and Michael Wilson, focused on chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania, where Goodall and her colleagues have studied chimpanzees for nearly 50 years.
The focussed their work on how SIV is transmitted among chimpanzees, and how the virus affects chimpanzee survival and reproduction.
Virologist Beatrice Hahn at the University of Alabama led the study, which involved Pusey and her colleagues.
The researchers used techniques they developed to detect SIV in chimpanzee fecal samples.
The dead chimpanzees showed a loss of CD4+ T cells (which are vital to immunity) in SIV-infected chimpanzees.
"From a scientific perspective, it is fascinating to learn that the virus affects chimpanzees in similar ways to humans," Wilson said.
"But it is difficult knowing that there isn't much we can do to help those whose lives may be shortened by the virus," he added.
"It isn't practical to treat the chimpanzees for SIV infections, but it appears that SIV in chimpanzees is not quite as pathogenic as HIV-1 in humans," said Pusey, who is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the College of Biological Sciences Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour.
The findings are published in journal Nature. (ANI)